I have to say, this is one of my biggest pet-peeves in general society and even some in the Church.
Nearly everyone in the world, even too many in the Church itself falsely believes that the LDS Church denied “blacks” the Priesthood up until 1978 when the revelation was received and the policy was changed.
This however was not the policy, practice, nor doctrine of the Church. I should know, I actually once left the Church primarily because of the ban and that same ignorance, so I will explain below.
First it’s often asked why doesn’t the Church “apologize” for it’s “racist” past. I then say, why should the Church “apologize” for something it didn’t do? That’s why the Church shouldn’t apologize, because it didn’t do anything wrong. It simply followed the will of God. People are looking at the Church through eyes of modern social convention and ignorance of scripture in relation to racism and inequality, as well as the actual history and what the policy’s and doctrines of the Church were and what the Church actually did and was.
I’m not going to get into everything I’ve learned, frankly it’s been too long, and it’s highly involved. So, what I’m going to do is simply summarize most of what I can remember from my studies on this issue. Note also, that my thoughts aren’t made up, they are actual facts from the history, as well as some of my own conclusions from such.
Here’s the actual truth concerning the Priesthood Ban.
1. The ban only applied to those of “African” lineage, not blacks. (Most Important Fact!)
2. All other races including blacks of the Islands, India, non African blacks of Central/South America etc. “were” given the Priesthood once their lineage was determined. (2nd Most Important!)
3. Skin color was only one of the ways to help determine lineage, but not the final way. Lineage was primarily determined through Patriarchal Blessing and through Genealogy.
4. White men were denied the priesthood and even had it taken away in some cases if they had African Lineage.
5. Lineage was determined by Patriarchal Blessing, and Family History Work, not because you were “black”.
6. The priesthood Biblically was always highly “restricted” also by Lineage, to certain Tribes, etc., and that didn’t make the Church then “racist”, it was simply the policy per Gods wishes. The Tribe of Levi for example were the only ones allowed to have the priesthood, all others were “banned”. Other Tribes were even denied entry into the Temple, especially the Holy of Holy’s because they weren’t of the Priestly order. Sound familiar? Happens even today still, irrespective of those of African Lineage being banned from LDS Temples in the past.
7. Christ Himself denied the Gospel to be given to any non-Jew. It took Peter after Christ’s death to receive a Revelation to give the gospel officially to the Gentile. Yet, Christ was not a racist.
One thing that’s interesting with this, is that Christ did give the gospel to a “couple” of non-Jews. Likewise, in the LDS Church a “couple” of African blacks were also given the Priesthood.
8. Women are not given the Priesthood, but that doesn’t mean the Church is sexist, hating women, holding women down, belittling women, etc.. The actual reality is that men and women simply have different roles per the Gospel of Christ and even human nature and ability. Women still have authority in the Church, are leaders, are treated equally and with respect, etc. There is no “gender inequality”.
9. Interesting to note that by the mid 70′s Racism and even slavery of the black African had finally ended the world over (talking most, not the isolated cases that still occur). Thus, it is not unreasonable to believe that God operates according to man’s timeline, as he’s done Biblically on other issues such as the Higher Law vs the 10 Commandments etc. Thus it can be reasonable to assume that the priesthood in order to not be defiled by the evils of racism, bigotry, and the slavery of man, was denied to those who were under those conditions (i.e. primarily the black African). Thus, it can be reasonable to see that the ban had nothing to do with racism “by” the Church itself, but was entirely because of the racism in the world at large. God does nothing unless man is ready for it, and the scriptures show this over and over. Why would the Priesthood be any different, it hasn’t been in the past?
10. The possible initial beginnings of the ban were believed to be according to an interpretation of the scriptures. However, there is no sure sign of this, thus it’s possible that it was simply the way things were interpreted after the fact in trying to find scriptural reasons for the ban. Given the lack of evidence, the ban may have been put in place by revelation that was never canonized, and then the assumptions followed after.
11. The LDS Church always had messages of tolerance, and love for others, including blacks, and it always taught “against” racism, and bigotry of any form. Being first exposed to the LDS Church before the ban was lifted, I can testify that those in the Church and the Church itself was so “non-racist” in it’s behaviors, people, and teachings, that I didn’t even know the ban existed until it was lifted around the same time. It also along with the Catholic Church, had no sign of racism in it. Many of the other religions I had attended over the years, there was often some sort of racist thing uttered and feeling therein by the people in general and even the religion itself, even in a black congregation of another religion I had attended for a period.
12. Mormons always kicked out the KKK and didn’t encourage them at all whenever they tried to settle in Utah. That doesn’t give any indication that Mormons were racist. In fact it gives the opposite indication.
13. Blacks and all races have “always” been allowed to be members of the Church, there was no segregation either compared to most other faiths, all races in Mormonism have always fellowshipped and worshiped with each other. No one was placed in situations to feel “inferior” with their brethren. The Priesthood and going to the Temple are privileges and ordinances. Not everyone gets and has those kinds of things at the same time.
14. Mormons, including the leadership of the Church always “lamented” the existence of the ban, but had Faith that one day the ban would be lifted. Such a common belief and view in the Church, even by it’s leadership, again does not indicate a religion or a people who are or were “racist”.
15. The ban was both a doctrine and a policy. The doctrine is that the priesthood is given of God according to His Will, and some of the possible commandments of such can be found in scripture, but given Latter-day Revelation, the Church is unsure whether those scriptures actually apply to the subject. The policy in this instance is that those of African Lineage were not to be given the Priesthood.
16. Mormons were “Abolitionists”. In fact, several of the instances of Mormons being driven from place to place in it’s early history was a great deal due to their Abolitionist views and voting power, compared to the many non-Mormon racist locals. Mormons were a large voting block, and there was a great deal of resentment by locals who were racist, as well as bigoted toward the Church itself because of this. Thus, it was not simply religious intolerance toward the Church that resulted in some of the early bigotry against the Church, it was also due to it’s stance against racism and slavery.
17. Doctrine does not change, but Policy’s do. Meaning that sometimes the “practices” that relate to certain doctrines are what changes, not the doctrines themselves. For example, the Law of Sacrifice. The doctrine is still the same, but the practice is now different, we no longer kill animals to show our devotion and covenants with God.
18. Studies have shown that Mormons were no more “racist” than any other population of America, some were racist, some where ethno-centrist, but most were neither, and Mormons certainly were not anything close to those who were racist in the South for comparison. Mormons also were not at all close to being racist to the degree many other religions were, in their segregation policy’s, in their judgments of the black man, etc.
The Church itself also given the actual facts of the priesthood ban, was not “racist”, but simply did what God said to do, and the Church could not do otherwise until He said otherwise. Had it been up to Mormons, the ban would have been lifted long before. But, God’s Will is not man’s Will in the LDS Church. We are led by God, not man. It shouldn’t be surprising that the moment the world finally accepted the black African is when God finally had his church lift the restriction of the Priesthood for that man.
19. It is true that some statements by LDS leaders were racist by our standards, some were ethno-centrist by our standards, and other statements are misconstrued and misused by critics, thus not actually racism, but something else is being stated. It is also true that some leaders made false assumptions in trying to “explain” the ban. However, none of these things were “doctrine” of the Church, and for that matter, were not believed by most of the Church, because after all, we have the scriptures and spirit ourselves. As a part of the checks and balances in the Church, the Church still remained intact and not led astray.
Further, if one looks at the totality of the statements and views of nearly ALL of those same individuals who made remarks that might give us pause today, we see men who were righteous men, men who were tolerant and respectful of minorities and otherwise.
It’s a similar thing of there existing a few negative statements about other religions by some leaders in LDS history, well those same men a 100 times more often said good things about other religions and christians. One cannot judge a people nor especially a religion by quote mining the most negative statements, and then ignoring the rest which would give a more accurate perspective of their belief system, and then think one is being truthful. Ultimately, mormons and especially the Church was not racist. Did some humans make some mistakes, yes. But, the Work is God’s Work, and his work is above such human petty mistakes and foolishness. THAT is the important thing. It is a Glorious Work to be a part of…..
In conclusion, does the Church need and have any reason to apologize? Absolutely not….
It did nothing wrong. It cannot be blamed for the “ignorance” of anti-Mormons and the less informed mormon or non-mormon that is ignorant of the actual practice and policy’s of the ban, and scriptural history, who usually just ignorantly take the anti-mormon viewpoint of the issue at face value. After all, it seems racist at first look, so the Church must have been wrong and been racist. Hence the so-called claim and need by some to want the Church to apologize. That idea is also wrong, because it imply’s the ban was wrong, and if the ban was wrong, then it imply’s the Church was wrong, no different than say the Catholic Church and all her sins of history and leadership, thus making it no different than any other man-made religion. However, we don’t have to go there, because the actual truth about the ban can set us free and truly know that God is in command of His Church and people, not man.
Bottom line and the biggest thing I want to make clear and that people need to understand, is that “blacks” were not denied the Priesthood, those of African Lineage were. Blacks of all types, races, and cultures WERE in fact still given the Priesthood. In a few cases it took a few years for the Church to spiritually and genealogically determine their lineage, but it still happened. The Church is a worldwide institution and always was. Just because most blacks in the America’s were denied the Priesthood because nearly all are of African decent, does not mean that “blacks” were banned. This is sort of a America-centric view, that the world evolves around and only is America, that what happens here is the same everywhere else is simply wrong.
“Blacks” were not denied the Priesthood, that thinking is simply false and needs to be changed to be actually accurate and truthful. To say “blacks were denied the Priesthood” is bearing false witness.
The actual truth is important, we need to change our lexicon in this.